DETROIT -- Justin Verlander picked off eight baserunners as a rookie in 2006 and all but shut down the running game against him. He hasn't recorded more than three pickoffs in a season since then, largely because opponents didn't dare take an aggressive lead off first base with him on the mound.
That changed the last couple of years with teams trying to manufacture runs on him. Friday's pickoff of Royals speedster Justin Maxwell showed Verlander is quite capable of changing back.
It was Verlander's first pickoff since April 21, 2012. Opponents are 29-for-34 in steal attempts against him since then, including 15-for-17 this season, continuing a trend that began in 2010. He has overcome many of those steals the last couple of years by retiring hitters.
This year, however, the steals reached the point where manager Jim Leyland noted last month that Verlander needs to vary his timing on throwing over to first base. He varied it slightly on Friday and got a key out from it, erasing Maxwell following a leadoff single in the second inning.
"I think he hesitated a little bit," Leyland said. "Usually he throws over when he comes up, and he didn't do that right off the bat. He waited just a minute until the guy didn't think he was going to do it. He took the extra step and he got him. ...
"You have to be careful with these guys. They'll turn it into a track meet."
Verlander was fully aware of that coming in.
"You know that these guys are aggressive," Verlander said. "Especially with the number of guys that they had in the lineup today that had speed, they're probably going to try to take advantage if those guys get on. Obviously, I'm trying to limit those guys getting on base, and if they do, just try to keep them from scoring, try to be quick to the plate and try to vary my move to first base."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.